Unfortunately, the captive-bred Bearded Vulture Cocó had a short-lived life in the wild. After she was released in Maestrazgo on 12 June 2020, the project team found her carcass on 9 Agust.
Releasing Cocó and Celest
This year, we released two Bearded Vultures in Maestrazgo as part of the collaborative efforts to bring the species back to the region.
The young vultures, baptised Cocó and Celest by schoolchildren, were both females. Cocó hatched on 15 March at the Specialised Bearded Vulture Breeding Unit at the Recovery Centre Vallcalent in Lleida, and Celest hatched on 13 March at the Bearded Vulture Captive Breeding Centre of Guadalentín in Jaén, and both were raised in Guadalentín by Bearded Vulture pairs. The Vulture Conservation Foundation manages both facilities following agreements with Generalitat de Catalunya and Junta de Andalucía respectively.
On 12 June, the project team and the regional secretary of Climate Emergency and Ecological Transition, Paula Tuzón, released the two young Bearded Vultures with the hacking method in Castellón, which has been home to the reintroduction project 'Benvingut de nou, Crebalòs' since 2018.
Coco's adaptation to the wild
The hacking period this year has been a bit complicated. Although both birds soon adapted to the place and often ate without difficulties, from the beginning, there was clear domination of Celest over Cocó, with some slightly violent interaction.
But the most significant issue was caused by the attacks of a fox. Over the past years, a fox would also enter the hacking site, steal some food and leave, but this year it was attacking Cocó every time, which was the one that occupied the lower and more accessible nest. Although Cocó has always defended herself, during one of the last occasions, the animal grabbed her by the wing, pulling out some feathers. To prevent similar incidents, the team placed an electric shepherd's net half a meter away from the hacking, which was very effective since foxes could no longer access the enclosure.
Despite these setbacks, on 22 July, Celest made a first short flight that took her to an area not far from the hacking and then walked up to the rock behind it. Cocó followed suit the next day, flying quite effortlessly for her first attempt.
What killed Cocó?
On 9 August, just a couple of months after exploring the wild of Maestrazgo, the project team found Cocó dead.
The week before, Cocó was seen eating several times and flying, also alongside Celeste. On Saturday, 8 August, the field team could not see Cocó. This situation happened before when both birds found a dead goat near the release site and spent a lot of time away from the hacking site.
However, since the GPS signal was very fixed to the same location, it signified that something was wrong. The team rushed to the location and, unfortunately, found the carcass of Cocó in La Creu on 9 August. After the Environmental Agents retrieved the body, it was transferred to the Center for Recovery of Fauna of El Saler in Valencia where the necropsy was performed.
The most likely cause of death, based on the wounds observed, is the attack of another bird, probably a Golden eagle. It should be noted that on day 4 August, both Cocó and Celest had an attack by a young eagle in the same place, but this time they were unharmed.
Both wild-hatched and captive-bred Bearded Vultures can get into fights with eagles, which can, unfortunately, be deadly. Compared to vultures, Golden Eagles have long and very sharp talons, which they need to kill their prey like marmots, wild ungulates or other small mammals. Such fights are a natural phenomenon and can occur for different reasons as they share the same habitat. Fights occur over food or territories, or can just happen for reasons unknown to us humans.
For instance, at the release site in the Swiss Alps, the field teams observe Golden eagles almost daily while monitoring the released Bearded Vultures. It is mainly the young birds with little hunting experience and success that are aggressive and compete for the food provided to the vultures as it is a mix of bones and meat. Adult Golden eagles are relatively calm. However, they can be territorial, leading to fights with vultures, and we did lose a few Bearded Vultures in the past due to injuries caused by eagles.
However, the Bearded Vulture for sure is not in the prey list of Golden eagles, and there are examples where both species can breed successfully in the same valley.
Updates from released Bearded Vultures in Maestrazgo
The reintroduction project in Maestrazgo started in 2018 to bring back the Bearded Vulture to the region. The project releases both captive-bred Bearded Vultures and also carries out an experimental translocation of non-breeding adults from the Pyrenees. Here are the latest movements of the released and translocated Bearded Vultures!
Captive-bred and released
Alòs - He has been mainly moving in the Aragonese Pyrenees, a little bit in Catalonia and in the French Pyrenees.
Amic - After arriving in La Rioja, Amic continued his travels and reached Picos de Europa, before moving 8 km further to Lugo on 23 June,and then returning to Picos de Europa.
Bassi - After being in the Tinença all winter, on 21 May he started a journey north, arriving and settling in the Boumort Reserve in Lleida.
Boira - He was also in the Tinença all winter, until 29 May when he decided to take a trip in a northwestern direction to the Picos de Urbión in La Rioja.
Translocated in 2018
Otal - He remains near the release site in Tinença, making occasional trips, such as the one on 18 May to the Rincón de Ademuz, or the one on 27 May to the Moncayo in Zaragoza.
Otal is beginning to attain that rusty colour! This past winter, the team considered the possibility of making some red clay baths so that Otal could smear his feathers, and thus acquire the characteristic orange colour that these birds have on their chests. But, after reviewing camera trap photos at the feeding points, it seems that Otal managed to locate some baths on his own. Unfortunately, in the period between the photos, Otal did travel between several territories, so it is not possible to tell where he got that colour.
We wish the best of luck to all released and translocated birds! You can stay tuned with these Bearded Vultures by signing up to the VCF's monthly newsletter.
Connecting populations of Bearded Vultures in Spain
The Maestrazgo region of Spain was historically a breeding site for Bearded Vultures and while there are no resident population the area is regularly visited by individuals released in Andalusia. The project to reintroduce the species to the region began in 2018 with the aim of establishing a wild breeding population that will bridge the populations in the Pyrenees and Andalusia, similar to the LIFE GYPCONNECT project in France that connects populations in the Pyrenees and the Alps. Over the course of the project captive-bred birds will be released in specially constructed hacking sites in the Parque Natural de la Tinença de Benifassà and in a unique experiment the team, in close consultation and collaboration with us here at the Vulture Conservation Foundation, will translocate adult non-breeding or floater birds from the population in the Pyrenees to the Maestrazgo region to test how effective this method is and if that has an effect on the reproductive productivity of the Pyrenean population. As part of the project the released birds will be monitored by fitting them with GPS transmitters to better understand how the move around the region and to encourage movements of birds to the region a series of supplementary feeding stations will be created.
The project is led by the Generalitat of Valencia, in collaboration with the Autonomous Communities from Aragón and Catalonia, the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Fish, Food and Environment and the us here at the Vulture Conservation Foundation.